on 1 June 2005
This book is everything that a short biography of a massive subject should be: readable, entertaining, informative and even-handed. And, as always, Ackroyd brilliantly evokes old London and the people who lived there - he excels at breathing life into the past.
Ackroyd was more than a little brave to tackle this book. He had to condense a vast field of study - in which there are many gaps of knowledge, and dozens of controversies and partisan camps - into a few pages without arriving at a superficial and facile treatment. He succeeds: where we can't be sure, he just says so; and where controversial views exist among academics, he objectively reports what is of interest to the lay reader, and ignores the rest.
By the end of this book, I felt that knew as much about Chaucer the man, his literature and his life as if I had made a prolonged study of the subject. All from a little book that barely covers the palm of my hand. Not bad, I think you'll agree.
A strong start to what promises to be a top-notch series - I look forward to more.
Like Dickens, (another of Ackroyd's biographies), Chaucer seems an ideal subject for Peter Ackroyd; his fascination with his birth city provides Ackroyd with a very deep knowledge of the city in which most of Chaucer's life was spent. The range of chapters is as follows:
A Courtly Training
An Italian Connection
The Civil Servant
The Court of the Boy King
A nest of Troubles
The Affairs of Troy
Residence in Kent
The Tales of Canterbury
As a courtier, most of Chaucer's life was spent at the London Court and the vast majority of his poems have the court as their setting.; all this ends abruptly with, perhaps, his most famous poems, "The Tales of Canterbury". The format of this epic poem, i.e. each character telling two stories, allows him to voyage far and wide.
In this brief and small book, Ackroyd has done a wonderful job by researching well and writing with brevity but cramming in a great deal which will build the character of the "Father of the English Language".
on 17 August 2011
I haven't read the book, but my avid-reader of a wife is reading & loving it so much that she asked me to buy another copy to replace the one that she has (because the binding is looking a bit dodgy now). This book, obviously, will never find itself languishing in a charity shop!
Evidently, you had better keep a dictionary around because Peter Ackroyd uses some uncommon words throughout "Chaucer: Brief Lives"!